WINNIPEG – Whether it’s talent, the ‘total team effort’ or just plain luck, there’s something about the Chicago Blackhawks that brings out the best in Michael Hutchinson.
The 25-year-old went 3-0-1 with a 1.23 goals-against average last year against the Chicago Blackhawks, and with 45 saves in their first meeting of the season Thursday at MTS Centre, he did it again with barely a blemish, backstopping the Winnipeg Jets to a 3-1 victory over the defending Cup champs.
“I don’t know what it is. It just seems that it’s one of those teams that’s easy to get up for, especially with them being the defending champions,” Hutchinson said.
“I was fortunate tonight to make some saves and get some timely blocks. It’s a total team effort when we play these guys.”
Blake Wheeler, Andrew Ladd and Mark Scheifele scored for the Jets, while Patrick Kane recorded the lone marker for the visitors.
With the win, the Jets finish their season-long six-game home stand with a 3-2-1 record and are now 6-3-1 overall on the year.
“It was good,” Ladd said of the effort. “It got better as the game progressed and (we) obviously had a big third period against a pretty good team. It’s nice to get the two points and get that good feeling back in here.
“Now we go out on the road.”
The Jets are back in action on Saturday in Columbus as they kick off a four-game eastern road swing.
The Hawks opened the scoring with a power-play goal at 1:26. With Toby Enstrom off serving a holding minor, Kane gathered a 35-foot feed from rookie left wing Artemi Panarin and fired a quick shot five-hole. With the assist, Panarin is now three points back of Connor McDavid (12 points) for the rookie scoring lead.
Trailing heavily on the shot clock, the Jets found their stride offensively midway through the first. Off a draw cleanly won by Bryan Little, Wheeler took the pass and rifled a shot over the glove of Corey Crawford, tying the game at 8:18.
Wheeler continues the lead the team in scoring (5G, 7A) after having his franchise-record eight-game point streak snapped Tuesday against the Kings.
Shots on goal favoured the Hawks 13-9 after one period of play.
Ladd put the Jets in front at 5:09 of the second – justly so following a terrific, altogether dominant power play by the home team. Crawford made the initial stop off Little, but he was unable to corral the rebound, punching it back into the slot where the wide-eyed Winnipeg captain was already cocked and loaded.
“We came out in the second with a style of game that we can be good at,” Head Coach Paul Maurice said. “We couldn’t contain it for the whole 20, but I thought after the first period, anyway, the compete was right and the battle was right.
Hutchinson was good at the other end, preserving the lead with a number of pivotal stops after the go-ahead goal. His best – a left pad save on Marian Hossa, who found himself in alone amid a gap in coverage.
The Hawks extended to a 32-22 edge in shots after 40 minutes.
“You have to understand that the other team is a good team and they’re going to make plays,” Maurice said. “I just thought what we were good at after two is that we looked like we’re supposed to. It’s not always going to be pretty, but at least we can understand the effort.”
Added Ladd: “The goal is to keep building on what we’ve established so far. That’s the key to this game. During those times when the other team is going to push, you’ve got to push back and find a way to carry the play. “
The Jets did just that, as Scheifele added the insurance with 11:56 to play, flying down his off wing and sniping a shot short side on Crawford.
Hutchinson was outstanding in the final few minutes, making a number of key stops – including a pair of point-blank chances, one coming off the stick of defenceman Trevor Daley, and the other from rookie Tanner Kero in tight.
“I don’t see anything different in Michael from practice to practice, from game to game,” Maurice said. “What he’s done so well is build a routine for himself that he follows daily, his work ethic never changes… He clearly had some success (tonight) and he earned it.
– Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com